Prof. Wole Soyinka, a playwright, has slammed Ilorin’s Emir, Ibrahim Sulu-Gambari, for his role in stopping an Osun priestess, Yeye Ajesikemi Omolara, from having an Isese festival in the state.
The festival honors Ifa spirituality and practice.
Soyinka, the Akintalun of Egba and Giiwa of Ijebu-Remo, observed that such behavior had converted a once-ecumenical city like Kaduna into a blood-stained parody of cohabitation before our own eyes.
He went on to say that such behavior enabled a young College of Education student in Sokoto, Deborah Samuel, to be lynched in the face of armed police on the bare charge of defaming the image of a respected prophet.
The Nobel laureate issued a statement titled,
In the article ”Isese Festival: An Open Letter to Sulu Gambari,” it was stated that “the greatest avatars that the world has known were not without human frailties, flaws, and errors of understanding.” You are not all-knowing. And you are not all-powerful.”
Some Islamic clerics from the Majlisu Shabab-l-Ulamah Society had previously visited the priestess at her residence to inform her that the Emir of Ilorin had sent them to warn her not to hold the three-day festival scheduled for July 22-24, 2023, in Ilorin. Following that, the priestess cancelled the celebration in an internet video, revealing that her life was in danger after receiving many death threats.
According to the announcement issued by the Akogun of Isara,
“Your Royal Highness,” I said. It is terrible to witness the old city of Ilorin, a confluence of faiths and ethnic variety, descend to this degree of bigotry and intolerance, embodied in the position of a governing king, so soon after the Moslem season of spiritual purification. The abolition of a people’s traditional celebration is a crime against humanity’s cultural legacy. Year after year, Ramadan has been observed in this country as an inclusive meeting of humanity, regardless of religious differences. In my whole life, I have never heard anyone of any denomination say that slaughtering rams in the streets and marketplaces is an affront to their understanding of godhead. Vegetarians remain silent. Buddhists take a different route. Non-Muslims regularly observe the preceding fasting season as a spiritual activity worthy of emulation prior to Ramadan.
“Perhaps this is another opportunity for me to introduce myself. I am currently teaching classes in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates. That is the region of origin; everything else is an afterthought. I went right before Christmas. In the run-up to Ramadan, I went through again. On both occasions, the streets, businesses, hotel lobbies, and other public spaces were decorated in the same festive manner. Only the symbols within the designs varied. The celebratory attitude was equally prevalent and inclusive. My thoughts couldn’t help but wander back home and a few years ago, recalling how a Corpus Christ procession was once attacked, and several were slain, by a horde of Moslem zealots for daring to process through the streets of that same Ilorin. Needless to say, such atrocities have become the norm. Bigotry sacrifices community.”
The elder statesman went on to say that the emir might be interested to know that several programs were conducted at government expense in Abu Dhabi for the creation of a humanised community based on religious tolerance and mutual respect.
As he put it,
“By contrast, must we turn the turban of enlightenment into a crown of bigotry here, several tiers removed from origin?” And in a society whose very constitution, ostensibly, protects freedom of belief, association, and movement?
“Your Royal Highness, it is behavior like this that has bred Boko Haram, ISIS, ISWAP, and other religious malformations that now afflict this nation, spreading grief and outrage across a once peaceful landscape, degrading my and your existence with their virulent brand of Islam.” Such behavior has converted a once-ecumenical metropolis like Kaduna into a blood-stained farce of coexistence right in front of our eyes. It is behavior like this that allows a young student, Deborah, to be lynched in the sight of armed police, on the bare charge of defaming the image of a renowned prophet.
“It is action like this, perpetrated in both obscure and prominent outlets across the country, that turns a young generation into mindless monsters, ready to swarm out and kill, kill, kill.” Simply kill for the sake of killing, but under the guise of religious immunity. It is behavior like this that gives one fanatic the courage to wake up one day in a Scandinavian country, loudly declare his purpose, and proceed to burn copies of the Qur’an. Retributions follow, similarly thoughtless, locking humanity in an ever-increasing spiral of costly but joyous bloodshed.”
According to the author, this continent has suffered centuries of scorn and despoilation at the hands of foreign religions, with Christianity and Islam at the fore.
“Both religions have been used sanctimoniously to justify unspeakable atrocities and the dehumanization of the black race.” Is it necessary for me to teach you about your own past, or do you prefer to forget? To meet a convert to alien spiritual dogma in this century, appropriating the cloak of piety to obstruct the observation of our antecedent spirituality, is not only racial treachery, but an assault on civilised conduct as a universal aspiration of humanity, where every discovery, every new encounter ushers in new propositions of enlightenment. ”Humanity builds on the past, maintaining alternate world views rather than eliminating that past, which is indestructible in any case,” Soyinka added.
He went on to say,
“Your actions offend my sense of racial being, and this is true for millions of people beyond these national and continental borders, stretching into the Americas and the Caribbean.” There are still Isese and related spiritualities to be found there. Isese’s grip on the human spirit is still strong there. Visit Brazil, Columbia, and Cuba, and be awed by the endurance of this spirituality among black humanity’s ancestors.”
The playwright predicted that long after he and the monarch were gone, generations would continue to suffer the effects of current anomalies, pretensions, and hypocrisies, as well as reap the bitter fruits of the seeds of discord sown by their forefathers.
“As a result, I urge you to rein in those agents of division, of triumphalist intolerance, such as the Majlisu Shabab Ulamahu Society,” he stated. The border between power and piety is thin. Make peace with Yeye Ajasikemi OIokun Omolara and make amends in every manner you can for this heinous insult to our race. We are aware of Ilorin’s past and the destiny of your dynasty, but these are not the concerns. The issue is peaceful coexistence, respect for other worldviews, celebrations, values, and humanity. The problem is accepting the various aspects of human enlightenment.